David Curtis and the gifted players of his Orchestra of the Swan will on this occasion not be dismayed to read that the sounds they produced in two of last Wednesday afternoon’s trio of offerings at Birmingham Town Hall were by no means beautiful.
What they were seeking for instead was grittiness and intellectual rigour, and they achieved those qualities magnificently in two works arranged for string orchestra. Mozart’s C minor (one of his most formidable keys) Adagio and Fugue – the Fugue originally for two pianos– was delivered grindingly, bitingly, the balance of its busy textures perfectly judged to this acoustic the performers know so well.
And the concert ended with something remarkable, an arrangement for string orchestra by Sir Colin Davis of Beethoven’s cosmically otherworldly late String Quartet in C-sharp minor.
Several great conductors of the past have made orchestral arrangements of major quartet works, but it remains a mystery as to why Davis felt the need to do this.
But I’m glad he did. In softening the sense of struggle shared by valiant solo players he brought out more the amazing musical content of the work as guided under the baton of a conductor. Curtis, who played in many quartet performances of the searching piece, coaxed and commanded so many nuances from his musicians in this commanding account which will not be forgotten in a hurry.
Beauty was sandwiched between these two pieces in Raphael Wallfisch’s persuasive reading of Schumann’s Cello Concerto (this itself an arrangement, reduced from a full orchestra to strings by Wallfisch’s conductor son Benjamin).
The soloist’s mellow, thoughtful tones and ruminative lines brought many gorgeous, heart-stopping moments, delicate interactions with Curtis’ alert orchestra wafting us into the realms of chamber-music – which the outer offerings had deliberately set out to eschew!